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U.N. Rights Chief Details Crimes in Darfur

U.S. Proposal for Darfur Tribunal Flawed; ICC Referral Needed

(New York) - The top U.N. human rights official will brief the Security Council today on atrocities in Darfur. Following Louise Arbour’s report, the Security Council should take prompt action to protect civilians and refer Darfur to the International Criminal Court.   
Arbour, who serves as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, will present the report of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Darfur, which found that grave crimes committed in Darfur "may be no less serious and heinous than genocide." The commission strongly recommended the Security Council refer the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to hold those most responsible to account.  
"The people of Darfur continue to suffer horrendous abuses fueled by ongoing impunity for crimes against humanity," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "The Bush administration's intransigence on the International Criminal Court is only delaying justice for the people of Darfur."  
In September, Washington sponsored the resolution that created the U.N. Commission of Inquiry for Darfur. But now, the United States is ignoring the commission's findings that the ICC is the "single best mechanism" and "only credible way" to ensure justice is done. Instead, the Bush administration has proposed a new ad hoc tribunal for Darfur.  
"The U.S. proposal to create a new tribunal for Darfur is a mirage of a solution," said Dicker. "A new, ad hoc court would lack the speed and staying power to get the job done."  
The U.S. government claims that this new tribunal could begin operating quickly because it would share infrastructure with the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.  
However, an official at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said on February 10 that it is already challenged by efforts to increase courtroom capacity and schedule new trials while handling the eight trials already in progress. The tribunal's press release noted that a fourth courtroom is currently under construction to ensure even more steady progress in completing cases for Rwanda. A new tribunal for Darfur would thus have to be built effectively from scratch.  
"To complete its existing docket on schedule, the Rwanda tribunal will have to use every resource it has," said Dicker. "The U.S. plan to graft a new tribunal on the Rwanda court's facilities is like squeezing three more passengers into an already overstuffed car."  
A key problem with the U.S. proposal is that, as a temporary court, it would be necessarily time-limited. That would make it easier for fugitives or an uncooperative Sudanese government to run out the court's clock.  
The U.S. government has also attempted to pass off its proposed court in Arusha as an "African court," while dismissing the ICC as a "European" tribunal. This public relations ploy ignores the many strong ties between members of the African Union and the ICC.  
African governments played an active role in establishing the court, and half of the African Union members have already ratified the ICC treaty. Additionally, as the principal funder of any new tribunal for Darfur, Washington would control the purse strings, which would raise questions about the court's legitimacy.  
Moreover, the ICC treaty permits the court to sit outside its headquarters in The Hague. This would allow the ICC to conduct hearings in Africa.  
Human Rights Watch has prepared a backgrounder detailing why the U.S. proposal would fail to effectively handle the challenges of ensuring justice for atrocities committed in Darfur. Excerpts from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry's report also discuss why mechanisms other than the ICC are not advisable.  

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